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November 23rd, 2023

The Homosexual Trope Behind Ex-Gay Therapy

Wow…they weren’t kidding when they called Peter and Barbara’s book Growing Up Straight a veritable encyclopedia of homophobia. And yes, from what I’ve read of it so far it draws very heavily on the work of Irving Bieber (he of the Mothers Did It school). Every wee passage in the book where they take notice of others in the field who were beginning to realize that homosexuals were not necessarily mentally disturbed and that those mental issues homosexuals face could largely be laid at the feet of the profound social and legal stigmas they face, which the authors freely acknowledge, is dismissed with a wave of the hand to the effect that Bieber disagrees. A better title for the book might have been What Irving Bieber Told Us.

They practically catalog every aspect of the social stigma that homosexuals endured in that period, and then go on to assert that nearly all homosexuals wish they weren’t and would do practically anything to get free of it, as though one had nothing to do with the other. It is the central premise of the book: that homosexuality is a dangerous practice, that homosexuals are inwardly miserable, that adult homosexuals are desperate for a cure, and this is why it is essential that parents nip it in the bud.

There are case histories that I haven’t done much but glance over now, but in their dry yet voyeuristic tone they remind me of all the case histories I read back in the day. These are not people, they are homosexual tropes that only exist to serve the narrative. But that was all we had to see ourselves by in 1968. I still remember vividly when that curtain was lifted for me, and it wasn’t the Internet that did it. It was FidoNet.

To look at how FidoNet worked from the perspective of today is to be stunned at how primitive and rickety it all was. And yet in the early to mid 1980s it allowed me to witness something I never had before, after a kindly sysop gave me private access to a gay echoboard called “gaylink”: gay men talking about their lives to one another, unfiltered, unedited, simply chit chatting away in their own voices. And in that moment, all the case studies fell away.

They had to on first contact with the reality of our lives, because they were never meant to illuminate, to raise awareness of the people we are and the lives we lead. They were self serving stereotypes propped up to prove a point. You never saw any case studies that didn’t prove the point. There, in my first exposure to the authentic voices of other gay men, I saw many.

I’ve blogged before about the young teenager from the Netherlands who said he thought he might be gay and asked the group how they knew it about themselves, and how from all over the world the kid got coming out to yourself stories, the breadth and depth of which you never saw in the case studies. It was stunning. If the wonks of the ex-gay industrial complex seem perpetually bewildered and frustrated that few people take them seriously anymore this is why. They never really looked at us, only the scarecrows they made of us, and ever since the early 1980s we could see ourselves no matter where we lived, if we had a computer and a modem.

A couple links to critical reviews of Bieber below…

The Bieber study: A review revisited (Warren Throckmorton)

A Half-Century of Conflict Over Attempts to ‘Cure’ Gay People (Time Magazine February 12, 2015)


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